Friday, 28 September 2007

1998 Flea Circus Performance Art in Berlin

Performancemania: Hayley Newman

Back in 1998 artist Hayley Newman and filmmaker Nina Koennemann performed their Flea Circus in Podewill, Berlin. Working under the alias Malcolm & Lily. The 'circus' was two fleas made from sunflower seeds and garlic skins attached to wires.

With the the sterotypical prop of a magnifying glass Nina and Hayley stood on either side of an individual audience member and recited passages from Waiting for Godot. Hayley's memory is cloudy here but she belives it was the exchange between Estragon and Vladimir, where they contemplate suicide and talk about hanging themselves from a tree (in this case, a tomato stalk). The experience was unique for the audience member with each of the individual parts being spoken into a different ear.

Hayley describes this "as a philosophical take on the anthropomorphism of fleas".

There is a photo of Hayley preparing the circus as well as a description in her book Performancemania which is available in art bookstores or via Amazon. For details of more recent projects see

Friday, 21 September 2007

Sleeping with the enemy

The recent reports in the news of bedbugs in London made me think this was a sudden increase. However there are reports from 2006,2006,2004 and reports that "In parts of London bedbug infestations have risen tenfold since 1996" which actually confirm that this is nothing new at all.

Various things have been blamed for this increase, including foreign travel, the Tube trains in the Eastend and second hand furniture.

The advice to help with this problem is:

Don't put things on the bed whilst on holiday, such as your suitcase.
Vacuum your room and furniture (contrary to what the name might imply bedbugs live in cracks and crevices not necessarily in the bed).
Wash your bedclothes on a hot wash (and blame your increased carbon footprint on these critters)
Check your mattress, monthly.
and my favourite which comes from the 19th Century which is take a pig with you on travels and let that into your bed before you retire so that it may be bitten instead of you.

For more details see:

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Gawen Smith Flea Circus of 1586

The most intriguing item in Moffett's catalogue of mechanical minutiae is an automated flea circus, "made so by art, that art imparted life" by one Gawen Smith in 1586. Like the "exility" of Callicrates' ants or the twitching creatures inside the Schuttelkastenm, Smith's performing fleas act "life things that were alive": they "skippe" and appear to "let out bloud" from a "secret scheathe" Ref 125. Fashioning tiny chains and locks, the locksmith harnesses the fleas to a miniature coach which they pull like tiny horses.

From "Humanism, Machinery, and Renaissance Literature" by PhD Jessica Wolfe
The references have not been followed up so the accuracy of this article has not been confirmed.

Gawen Smith was obviously some kind of inventor as there are other references to him to be found on the web:

"In 1580, Queen Elizabeth I refused to grant Gawen Smith the right to build a lighthouse on the Goodwin Sands. The Queen rejected the petition because she considered the application was solely for financial gain and not for the well-being of the mariner. It would appear from contemporary House of Lords documents that the Master of Trinity House, Henry Church, objected to the Smith proposal because of the applicant's involvement with wrecking." from E Bertrand - Cambridge Journal of Economics, 2006